What is the Best Way to Experience the Northern Lights?

Posted by Lisa Pagotto

Northern lights, or Aurora Borealis
Northern lights, or Aurora Borealis

Always moving, never the same, never still. At times the lights were playful, like children playing hide and seek. Other times, they were slow and graceful, almost elegant as they caressed the velvet sky. Sometimes fidgety, flickering from bright to dull like a light globe with a loose wire, alternating with a night club type electronic pulse as the lights exploded their energy above.

What are the Northern Lights?
The bright dancing lights of the aurora are actually collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth's atmosphere. The lights are seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres.

Green explosions through the sky
Green explosions through the sky

My Northern Lights Experience
Quietly enjoying Christmas Dinner in Rovaniemi, Lapland, a wide eyed Chinese man raced into the dining room yelling uncontrollably in what sounded like gibberish and flapping his arms in frenzy. The Northern Lights had begun their performance.

Dashing to the rooftop terrace with our necks cranked to the sky, we witnessed what was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. Swirls of illuminated green twisted and turned across the night sky. Slowly but surely, fading in colour to a pastel greens before suddenly remerging into vividly electric emeralds.

There were several clusters across the sky before us. A wide slow moving banner and narrow but long, fast moving tower of light. At times, the lights were barely visible, but they would return within seconds to dance before you in vibrant colours.

Cameras clicked, tripods were snapped into place as we attempted to capture this unique beauty. Others simply stood there, eyes averted to the sky, taking it all in. It was breathtaking. Twirling, swirling, flitting, dancing, jumping, leaping, pulsing, spiralling.

Truly magical, unlike any other phenomena
Truly magical, unlike any other phenomena

How long do the Northern Lights perform for?

The duration of the northern lights exposure is never the same. My experience in witnessing them was that they performed on and off over several hours. Sometimes they would be dancing and jumping through the sky for only 30 seconds before they would disappear, other times, they would perform for half an hour at a time. The weather conditions have a very strong influence on what you will see.

Does it really look like what you see in photos?

No. Photos really enhance what you see in the night sky, as the shutter is held open on a camera taking in more light/colour and capturing it. Of course it is the same as what you are seeing, but what you see with your naked eye over a 30 second period compared to that same 30 second period being captured into one single camera shot will appear differently. The camera will show a much more vivid picture with the lights of a 30 second duration displayed in a single file whereas the human eye is experiencing this in real time.

Green is the most common colour to witness
Green is the most common colour to witness

How can I be guaranteed to witness this phenomenon?

There is no way to guarantee that you will see the Northern Lights. Weather conditions are everything. The sky must be clear with no cloud cover. There must be no light pollution for the best chance of witnessing the lights and it needs to be dark. The lights tend to appear later in the evenings when temperatures drop and cloud cover lifts.

Where is the best place to go?

Anywhere north of the Arctic Circle whether it be Scandinavia, the Yukon etc. The further north you go, the higher your chances of witnessing the lights.

A night sky lit up
A night sky lit up

When is the best time to go?

The lights start to appear anytime from late September, early October through to around March. Although the most well renowned time to witness them is in the heart of winter, quite often cloud cover is an issue at this time. During September and October, while the nightly performances are of a rarer occurrence, these times are said to be the prime time to witness pinks and reds in the sky alongside the green lights.

What is the best time of night to see them?

The Northern Lights have been known to appear from as early at 5pm in the evening and can sometimes still be seen dancing at 6am. More commonly anytime from 10pm through to 3am is when they are said to be most active.

Dancing and swirling
Dancing and swirling

What colours can I see?

The human eye recognises green most prominently. This is the most common colour for you to witness. It is possible to also witness pinks, yellows and very rarely blues and purples. Blue is more difficult for the human eye to register and is quite often picked up by cameras without the viewer actually having physically seen this colour themselves.

Where would you love to see the Northern Lights from? Tell us below!

Aurora Borealis
Aurora Borealis

Looking for more Natural Phenomena? Download the Crooked Compass Travel App for further inspiration.